Starting a Business while Paying it Forward
As relatively new business owners in York, Rebecca and Will Hanlon feel more comfortable sharing advice given to them by more established business leaders in the area.

You can argue we had no business starting a business in York, or anywhere else for that matter. One of us had just been laid off by the local newspaper. We were pregnant with our first baby. We didn’t have much in our savings account. Oh, and neither of us had any real business experience, from either the classroom or real-world practice.

Still, a handful of pivots, a plethora of mistakes, and a few years later, Our York Media continues to grow every day. We’re in the business of serving York stories that connect the community and inspire our audience. Our content is created by a team of former journalists and professional storytellers and includes a mix of branded content and good-news community coverage.

It’s not a traditional media model and certainly doesn’t reflect any retail, restaurant, service or really any other kind of business model.

So, when it comes to offering others advice about how to start a business in York, we’d feel irresponsible to speak about it with any real authority. There’s a great resource for that in Susquehanna SCORE, anyway, and another place called Google where you can find everything else.

What we can share, though, is the advice and tips we’ve received from more established business leaders in York: some of them have been clients of ours; some of them have crossed into our network in some way or another; all of them have more credibility when it comes to business than we do.

In no real order, here are some tidbits about starting a business in York from people who know what they’re talking about. They’ve been invaluable to us, and others should be able to learn a thing or two from them, as well.

1. Read ‘The E-Myth’

One of our first clients was the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship at York College. During one of our early meetings, Jeff Vermeulen, the center’s executive director, asked us if we had read ‘The E-Myth’ yet.

The premise of the e-myth, or entrepreneurial myth, is roughly this: Let’s say you’re a baker and want to open your own bakery. If you’re the person doing everything in your bakery, you don’t really own a business, you own a job. The book argues companies should be based on systems, not people – especially yourself.

At the time, we were doing all of the production work for our clients (writing stories, managing social media, etc.). It really wasn’t a scalable model.

Soon after, we started bringing on subcontractors to help us management the workload. That freed us up to grow the business. In other words, focusing on sales.

2. Always be selling

This tip, from Ben McGlaughlin, who at the time was the CEO & President of Wolfgang Candy Company and is now a partner at Design Quake, doesn’t mean you should be hawking your product or service every waking minute.

Rather, it plays off of the previous advice: You should always be growing your business. If you’re not growing, Ben argues, you’re dying. To grow, you need to get other people to work for the business so you can work on the business.

3. Be everywhere

We’ve never been fans of cold-calling or cold-emailing. We’ve found the best way to build sales meetings is to build relationships. The best way to do that is to be everywhere, says Julie Poland, a Business Growth Coach we met through SCORE.

Today, we’re members of York Young Professionals, Buy Local Coalition, Junior League of York, Rotary Club of York, as well as the York County Economic Alliance, its Economics Club and the Women’s Business Center Organization.

Being part of these groups is a big investment, and not just monetarily. If you really want to get your money’s worth, you need to be willing to put in the time investment by being active members. That means going to the groups’ respective mixers and networking sessions, signing up for volunteer opportunities or open board seats, and actually being a part of your community.

Our time with these organizations, by far, has been our best way to build the relationships that have helped grow our business. And if you don’t think you have time for this kind of commitment, please see Tips 1 and 2.

4. Establish your values

Mike Kochenour didn’t know it at the time, but when we interviewed him for a video for York Traditions Bank, he inspired us to do some hard thinking about our values. Finding your values and using them as the compass that guides everything you do is like finding your North Star, Mike told us.

Today, those values aren’t just a reminder our of greater mission and purpose – they are the guiding light in everything we do.

5. Get to know everyone

Bob Pullo’s name is synonymous with a lot of positive change in York. We recently just got to know the former head of the York Federal Foundation after Give Local York earlier this year.

We asked him who he’d recommend us getting to know in York. His advice: everyone. You should never stop growing your network, he argues. Get to know the other parents at your kid’s daycare; talk to the people around you in line at the market; turn strangers into neighbors anywhere and everywhere you go.

6. Don’t be too humble

We may never find a bigger fan of our work than Patti Stirk, owner of Small Start Art House. She always makes time to get lunch with us or let us pick her brain about business knowledge. Often, she’ll ask us what cool things we’ve been up to lately. And one day, our play-it-down response didn’t satisfy her.

“Don’t be too humble,” she told us. You’re doing great things, you’re working to change our community, and people should know about it, Patti said.

So, we’ve learned to not be quiet about our ideas – and by sharing those things and being excited about the work we’re doing, we’ve gathered a supporting cast of community members who push us forward.

It’s OK to not know it all

This isn’t from anyone, in particular, but it’s been the root of our success so far. We had big ideas for York and our business, but we knew we had a lot to learn to get it growing. We’ve consumed countless books, magazines, and blogs about our industry. We take advantage of local business resources at SCORE and regularly meet with mentors in the community. There’s new things we’re picking up every day, innovative ideas we’re trying and new advice that helps make us better than we were the day before.

While business experience or available capital can certainly be valuable when starting a business in York, we didn’t need much of either to get where we are now. We still have a long way to go and new ideas to launch, but with the guidance of the people above, we feel like we’re on the right path.

Rebecca and Will Hanlon are the co-founders of Our York Media. They were the winners of the 2018 YorIt Social Venture Challenge. They live in Hellam with their son, Joey, and dog, Tito.

 

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